Machaut in the Age of Motown (2005) is a transcribed mashup of two pre-existing works: The Bells, written by Marvin Gaye (1970) as sung by The Originals, and Tels rit from the Remede de Fortune (1340) written by Guillaume de Machaut as sung by the Project Ars Nova Ensemble. It’s the fifth piece in a series called Machaut in the Machine Age, which I have been making every now and then since 1986 in response to the music and poetry of Guillaume de Machaut, the fabulous 14th century French composer.
Originally scored for soprano sax, clarinet, violin, bass, bells, vibes, piano, and drumset, I am happy to adapt the piece for your forces. You can download the score and listen to a live performance:
And you can listen to the original mashup of Marvin and Machaut on 7 November in A Book of Days.
Light up Your face began as a piece about the murder of Medgar Evers on 12 June 1963. Eudora Welty wrote a story the next night from the point of view of the murderer, who had not yet been identified. It has been hailed as an uncanny portrait of the killer, but it is wrong in one important respect. Byron De La Beckwith was not an impoverished nearly illiterate redneck, he was an upstanding middle class salesman and WWII veteran, who along with participating in the White Citizens’ Council and the Ku Klux Klan, regularly attended the Episcopal Church in Greenwood, MS.
That last fact is the inspiration for the piece, which includes an excerpt from Eudora Welty’s story against my harmonization of the chant version of the refrain of Psalm 80: Light up Your face, that we may be rescued.
After three trials, Byron De La Beckwith was finally convicted of first-degree murder in 1994.
The video for Light up Your face is a collaboration between Bradley Wester and Matt Petty. Bradley works with an image of Medgar Evers’ home in Jackson, Mississippi, and the carport where he was killed. Matt Petty’s contribution is a meditation on the murder of James Craig Anderson in Jackson in 2011, a murder committed by a group of white high school students from the neighboring town of Brandon. The students were convicted of their crime and are currently serving time in federal prison. The family of James Craig Anderson asked that the murderers be spared the death penalty.
Light up Your face is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. You can watch and listen to the piece by visiting June 12th.
The original version of this piece is for actor, singer, and piano. You can download it here. The piano part can be replaced by chamber ensemble or chorus. If you would like a version that works for your ensemble, let me know your needs. Please get in touch with me for more information about showing the video as part of your performance.
And thanks for supporting this low-key way of publishing!
Armon is the closing section of a larger piece called Untitled: Interior, which was written to accompany a solo dance by Stephanie Nugent. Armon is the name for the plane tree in Hebrew, and the word also means “naked” or “peeling off”. The piece can be performed by as few as five individual singers, probably altos, or by a chorus doubling the five parts. There is no text, and you are free to use whatever syllables help you shape the music. I have purposely under-notated the phrasing and articulation to indicate that you are free to shape your own performance of the piece.
Armon could also be performed by a men’s chorus, (or even a mixed chorus (tenors and altos, say), if the singers are careful to match their timbres with one another,) and you can feel free to transpose the whole piece as necessary. Please transpose so the music falls in a low and even vulnerable register for the singers.
The piano part is optional.
There is an optional additional spoken part that can be narrated at the beginning of the piece. It is an excerpt of a translation of a prayer of the 8th century female Sufi mystic Rabi’a:
if I speak my love to you in fear of hell,
incinerate me in it;
if I speak my love to you in hope of heaven,
close it in my face.
But if I speak to you simply because you
exist, cease withholding
translated by franz wright
Push the Dust was originally written as part of a big cello piece for Maya Beiser called I am writing to you from a far-off country. The text, by Belgian surrealist Henri Michaux, is written as a series of letters from a woman to an unnamed recipient.
We are more than ever surrounded by ants. They push the dust uneasily at top speed. They take no interest in us. Not one raises its head. This is the most tightly closed society that could exist, although outdoors they constantly spread out in all directions. It doesn’t matter, to realize their projects, their preoccupations… they are among themselves… everywhere. And until this moment, not one has raised its head towards us. It would rather be crushed.
The demo I made when I was composing the piece was for mallet percussion instead of cello, and I think it makes for a very cool percussion piece. I’ve posted that demo version as October 3rd in A Book of Days. It can be performed by six players on multiples of the same instrument, or as a solo piece for one player, who performs the text and one live percussion part, having pre-recorded the others. The piece can certainly be done on any mallet instrument like vibes or marimba, but you are also welcome to construct a homemade instrument, probably of pieces of metal, to record the playback tracks and perform the live line.
Here is a score of the complete piece. If you would like to perform the piece, please click the donation button below, and I will send you the individual parts you need to perform it live or record the playback tracks.
And thank you for supporting this low-key way of publishing:
Enough Holes was written for the French pianist Nicolas Horvath to perform on a concert of hommages to Philip Glass. The piece is a response to one that Glass wrote with Foday Musa Suso for a 1989 production of Jean Genet’s play The Screens. My piece is inspired by an error-filled computer transcription of the original recording, further edited and transformed manually.
I hope it has enough holes.
THE MOTHER: Take the blanket.
LEILA (pointing to a blanket): That one?
THE MOTHER: No, not that one. It hasn’t enough holes.
THE GENDARME (to THE MOTHER): Giving her the one with the most holes?
THE MOTHER: What interests her is the holes. The more there are, the better she likes it.
Genet: The Screens (1961)
Enough Holes is part of my ongoing project, A Book of Days. To listen to a recording, please visit May 2nd.
Here is a score of the piece in pdf format.If you perform the piece on public concerts for which you are paid, it’d be great if you would purchase a copy of the piece. Click the button below:
Perpetual Happiness is a reworking of the opening duet from Stephen Sondheim’s Passion, sung by two lovers who will not end up staying together. I am fascinated at how Sondheim has written a perfectly realized romantic duet while simultaneously undercutting the permanence of that love, embodying both the devotion and the falsity in the relationship. I used nothing but the notes of the original piano-vocal, arrayed as a virtuoso moto perpetuo for Tony as a way of exploring and illuminating how the musical materials of the original create their subtle commentary on the illusions of superficial romantic love.
Baby-Angel Barcarolle was commissioned in 1994 by the New England Conservatory Preparatory Division as a piece for young players. You’ll probably notice that I was hanging out with the Bartok Violin Duets at the time. The piece is dedicated to the violinist Robin Lorentz.
Baby-Angel Barcarolle is part of my ongoing project A Book of Days. You can hear Mary Rowell’s demo recording by visiting December 16th.
This old Breton’s fisherman’s prayer might be related to the piece:
dear god, be good to me;
the sea is so wide,
and my boat is so small.